Eastern Hognose (1Feb2017)

Beautiful, gorgeous, colorful Eastern Hognose. Seen way back on 1 February 2017.

By some people, they are confused with Cobras and killed. If someone around here says they saw a Cobra, they’re most likely wrong. It was probably a Hognose. I don’t even know how many captive Cobras there are around here that could escape. Is that even legal?

But, nevertheless, if a Cobra got loose the person would probably be in trouble:
1. “A Deadly Cobra Is Still Missing and a Man Faces Jail Time for Its Release” (Newsweek, 11 Feb 2022) by Jenni Fink
2. “Authorities take 75 snakes from man whose cobra got loose in N.C.” (KWCH12, 11 Jul 2021) by WTVD Staff

Yes, it is sometimes legal: “Exotic snakes are popular, and legal, in Texas” (KHOU-11 25 Aug 2016) by Kevin Reece. See also the probably more recent “Controlled Exotic Snake Permit (a.k.a. Nonindigenous Snake Permit).”

But note that, as they say in “Dangerous venomous snake may be loose in Texas city, police warn” (KXAN, 5 Aug 2021) by Michael Bartiromo:

The West African banded cobra (N. savannula) belongs to the Naja genus of venomous cobras found in many parts of the world, but this particular species is believed to be native to West Africa, according to National Geographic. Bites from the species belonging to the Naja genus are said to be fatal if not treated immediately.  

The State of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department later confirmed that “these types of snakes” are illegal in Grand Prairie, despite the owner having a permit to own a non-indigenous snake in Texas.

“The possession of a Controlled Exotic Snake permit from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has no bearing on [the municipality’s laws] whatsoever,” a representative said in an emailed statement.

The snake’s owner may also face misdemeanor charges for “recklessly, intentionally, or negligently” allowing the dangerous snake to escape, Texas Parks and Wildlife says.

But, anyway, with that distinction and caveat made, let’s get back to the Hognose.

At “Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)” (the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory), Anna Tarter, University of Georgia, (as revised by J.D. Willson) writes:

Sometimes called “puff adders,” eastern hognose snakes are thick-bodied snakes that reach about 46 in (115 cm) long. These snakes are easily distinguished by their upturned snouts, but they are variable in color. The eastern hognose has a background color that can be yellow, gray, brown, green or black, often patterned with large, rectangular spots down the middle of the back that may resemble eyespots. The scales of this snake are keeled and the underside of the tail is usually lighter than the rest of the venter. The females of this species have a tail that has a fine taper to the end of the tail, while the males have a slight bulge near the cloaca and the tail then tapers off drastically. When confronted, the hognose snake will suck in air; spread the skin around its head and neck (like a cobra), hiss, and lunge pretending to strike. Eventually, they will even play dead, rolling on their back and opening their mouth. Often, these displays alone are enough to identify this species. Despite this fairly convincing show, hognose snakes almost never bite.

Hognose snakes are active strictly by day and are often seen crossing roads in the spring and fall. They prey on frogs, salamanders, small mammals, birds, and invertebrates; but toads are their favorite and almost exclusive food in most areas . Hognose snakes seem to be immune to poisons produced by toads, and are equipped with large teeth (called rear fangs) in the back of their mouths that are used to puncture inflated toads so that they may be more easily swallowed.

In “Eastern hognose snake” they write:

The average adult H. platyrhinos measures 71 cm (28 in) in total length (including tail), with females being larger than males. The maximum recorded total length is 116 cm (46 in).

Heterodon is derived from the Greek words heteros meaning “different” and odon meaning “tooth”. platirhinos is derived from the Greek words platys meaning “broad or flat” and rhinos meaning “snout”.

The most distinguishing feature is the upturned snout, used for digging in sandy soils.

The color pattern is extremely variable. It can be red, green, orange, brown, gray to black, or any combination thereof depending on locality. They can be blotched, checkered, or patternless. The belly tends to be a solid gray, yellow, or cream-colored. In this species the underside of the tail is lighter than the belly.

Although H. platirhinos is rear-fanged, it is often considered nonvenomous because it is not harmful to humans. Heterodon means “different tooth”, which refers to the enlarged teeth at the rear of the upper jaw. These teeth inject a mild amphibian-specific venom into prey. The fangs receive the venom from the snake’s Duvernoy’s gland. Bitten humans who are allergic to the saliva have been known to experience local swelling, but no human deaths have been documented.

When the eastern hognose snake is threatened, the neck is flattened and the head is raised off the ground, like a cobra. It also hisses and will strike with its mouth closed, but it does not attempt to bite. The result can be likened to a high speed head-butt. If this threat display does not work to deter a would-be predator, an eastern hognose snake will often roll onto its back and play dead, going so far as to emit a foul musk from its cloaca and let its tongue hang out of its mouth. One individual was observed playing dead for 45 minutes before reanimating and moving away.

The eastern hognose snake feeds extensively on amphibians, and has a particular fondness for toads. This snake has resistance to the toxins toads secrete. This immunity is thought to come from enlarged adrenal glands which secrete large amounts of hormones to counteract the toads’ powerful skin poisons. At the rear of each upper jaw, it has greatly enlarged teeth, which are neither hollow nor grooved, with which it punctures and deflates toads to be able to swallow them whole. It will also consume other amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders. Because it is a toad feeding specialist its venom has been modified to be greatly effective against toads and has not been found to be harmful to humans.

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